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Author Interview: Kam Oi Lee

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Kam Oi Lee is one of my oldest writing friends. We met in a writing community on LiveJournal in 2004, and did our first Nanowrimo together in October that year. Along with several others (including Jess Faraday), we formed our own writing and critique group, which has been going since January 2005. Kammy was the first to volunteer her novel for group critique, which gives you some idea how fearless she is. We all learned a lot from that first exercise, and I’ll always be grateful to her for going first. These days when I get to read her work, either in early draft or published form, I treat it like an occasion. There’s usually a cup of tea involved.

Author Kam Oi Lee crouching in front of a display of many large paintings
Kam Oi Lee at an art exhibit in NYC

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KAM OI LEE, human being from Earth, is also a musician, athlete, writer, spaceship dweller, and dystopian underdog. Born in Washington, DC, she spent her childhood in Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan. When her father retired from the U.S. Foreign Service, the family returned to his home state of Hawaii, where she completed high school. Since then, she’s lived in Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. She now resides in Chicago with her spouse and two cats.

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Stronger Writing: Starts, Beginnings, and Promises Made

Image of a portion of a reddish brown running track with painted lane divisions crossed by a perpendicular line with All writers are familiar with the aphorism “Finish What You Start”. It’s good advice. You can’t sell a story that’s not finished. Writers finish things.

But this post isn’t about that kind of starting and finishing.

This post is about starts and beginnings in action and dialogue: what they are, what they do, and how to use them to serve the story.

Let’s start with these pairs of sentences:

  • Louise smiled and began to walk away from me.
  • Louise smiled and walked away from me.
  • Ben grimaced and started unloading the dishwasher.
  • Ben grimaced and unloaded the dishwasher.
  • The queen began to rise from her throne.
  • The queen rose from her throne.

Do you see the difference? In each pair, the first sentence emphasizes the start of an action, whereas the second emphasizes the action itself.

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Short Fiction, MICE Quotient, and Nesting Codes

At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in October 2014, I attended a workshop called “Short Fiction Explained (to Novelists)” led by Mary Robinette Kowal, a longtime friend of the conference and co-host of the fabulous Writing Excuses podcast.

Mary’s workshop approached short fiction using a concept originated by SFF author Orson Scott Card, called the MICE Quotient. M.I.C.E. stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event, and the mnemonic is a way of identifying what kind of story you’re telling, where that kind of story starts and finishes, the kind of reader expectations you’re setting up and need to satisfy, and what you need to include, and what to exclude, to tell your story while keeping it tight. (What you need to include is conflict that delays or prevents the ending; what you need to exclude — from a short story — is anything that doesn’t support that kind of conflict.)

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